The Leopard is an important recurring motif in both Benin art and thematically in Bini symbology.
The ancient Kingdom of Benin lies in the tropical rain forest of West Africa, in what is present day Nigeria, and has one of the continent’s most glorious artistic legacies. In some respects, the history of Benin resembles that of China & Japan, for it is replete with dynasties of Obas (kings) who patroniSed artistic creation in support of their courts.
In Benin art the leopard appears most frequently. As “king of the forest” his reputation is as great as that of the Oba, or king. Killing a leopard was a privilege of the Oba, who had his own association of leopard hunters equipped with “special powers” which enabled them to kill these animals without losing their own lives..The leopard symbolized the Oba’s authority, the loyalty of his subjects, and high status. As “king of the forest” his reputation is as great as that of the Oba, or king. (Source: MET Museum)